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Tom Waddell was a star pitcher in Major League Baseball who never forgot his Dundee roots

Waddell made his debut in the Major Leagues 40 years ago when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians against the Baltimore Orioles.
Graeme Strachan
Dundee native Tom Waddell in his cark blue and red Cleveland Indians uniform
Dundonian's diamond dream: Tom Waddell made it to the big leagues with the Cleveland franchise. Image: DC Thomson.

Tom Waddell made the journey from Broughty Ferry to Major League Baseball and became the most important right arm in Cleveland.

But the trappings of fame held no attraction for him.

The man with the $250,000 salary was happiest coming home to Dundee to visit relatives and going for a pint in the Boars Rock.

Waddell’s story is one of exceptional perseverance.

He was born in Church Street before emigrating with his parents Jean and Tom to New Jersey in the early 1960s.

As a youngster he spent his holidays here with his sister Marilyn to visit relatives.

He was signed by Hank Aaron in 1981

He discussed how his dreams of making it to the big show finally came true in a forgotten interview with The Sunday Post in 1988.

“I took part in all sports as a youngster, depending on the weather,” he said.

“Baseball, though, was my first love, and I began playing in the Little League set-up as a youngster.”

Two adults show two young boys in baseball uniforms something on baseball diamond
Tom Waddell began making a name for himself in Little League. Image: Supplied.

He was a right-hander standout at Demarest High School and Manhattan College.

After graduation in 1981, Waddell was not selected in the college draft, but drove to spring-training camps where team scouts could see aspiring players.

He was signed as a free agent by legendary baseball player Hank Aaron, who claimed the MLB home run record from Babe Ruth in 1974.

Hank Aaron in his Atlanta Braves uniform
The legendary Hank Aaron was one of the greats of the game. Image: Supplied.

“I approached Hank, president of the Atlanta Braves, in 1981 to find out if there was a place for me in their plans,” he said.

“He saw me play, and shortly after signed me.”

He spent three years in the Braves’ minor-league system, the last in 1983 with Richmond of the International League.

“If you perform well there you can progress rapidly,” he said.

“The minor sides compete in different leagues, allowing players to gradually prepare for their first professional start.”

Cleveland Indians manager Pat Corrales in his baseball uniform
Pat Corrales was impressed with Waddell and took a chance on the pitcher. Image: Supplied.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t with them that he got his big break.

His performances caught the eye of Cleveland Indians (now the Cleveland Guardians) manager Pat Corrales and he joined them in 1984.

Waddell made his debut in the Major Leagues on April 15 1984 for the Indians against the Baltimore Orioles.

He was 25.

He quickly established himself in the side.

Injuries dogged his time in MLB

Though his elbow was hurting, Waddell appeared in 58 games for the Indians in 1984, pitched 97 innings, and compiled a record of 7-4 with six saves.

He set a club record for relief appearances by a rookie.

In his 1988 interview with The Sunday Post, Waddell discussed his strict routine between appearances, to make sure he was in the best possible shape.

Tom Waddell in his Cleveland Indians uniform
Waddell achieved his dream of pitching in the major leagues. Image: Supplied.

“During the game itself, I’ll throw roughly 110-135 pitches over a three-hour period, varying the pace and power on every occasion,” he said.

“That, more than anything, takes it out of you.

“After the game I plunge my right arm into a bucket of ice, often with ice on my
shoulder, too.”

Injuries, though, were still common.

Arm trouble dogged his time in the majors.

Waddell thought the pain would go away.

When you’ve spent years trying to get to the major leagues, you don’t want to lose your place by complaining that your arm hurts.

When the 1985 season started, he found it hadn’t.

One special night against the New York Yankees…

Waddell became a starter when Eddie Camacho got injured.

He started his first big-league game on July 31 in Cleveland against the New York Yankees and won 6-5.

The game was televised in New York where his family and friends were watching.

Indians team card showing Tom Waddell alongside a Tribes cap.
A Cleveland Indians baseball card showing Tom Waddell alongside a Tribes cap. Image: DC Thomson.

Waddell was unable to pitch effectively because of constant pain as the innings and starts added up.

He had accumulated a ridge of bone on the outside of the elbow that irritated an overlying tendon.

Also, a muscle on the inside of the joint had grown so large that it hindered his movement.

Waddell had surgery in September 1985 to remove bone spurs.

He appeared in 49 games for the Indians in 1985, pitched 112 innings and ended with an 8-6 record and nine saves.

Waddell was never able to completely bounce back after the surgery.

Tom Waddell’s career ended before it started

He threw in three spring training games in 1986 but delivered a pitch and heard things popping in his arm.

The medics said it was just scar tissue tearing loose.

It meant a spell in the minor leagues.

He made only three rehab appearances and the elbow kept aching.

Waddell returned to the majors in 1987 but he wasn’t the same pitcher.

He played six games and his final appearance in the major leagues was against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tom Waddell, again in his Cleveland Indians uniform
Tom Waddell played for the Indians in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Image: Supplied.

Cleveland finished bottom of the seven teams in their division.

The coach who signed Waddell was sacked.

In September 1987 he returned to visit relatives in Dundee, which gave him a rare chance of a couple of rounds of golf at Downfield with his father Tom.

Waddell was yet to throw a ball in anger during the 1988 season when he spoke to The Sunday Post but he was already looking to the future.

“I’m keen to play or manage a side back home,” he said.

“Failing that, I may return to help promote baseball in the UK.

“I hope to settle back in Scotland at the end of my career.”

He never made it home to Dundee

He wound down his career and pitched in the minors before retiring in 1989.

The Courier spoke to Waddell when he returned to Broughty Ferry in 1990 with his family to weigh up his next career move.

“After quitting the playing side of things I considered, as most players do, continuing my involvement in the sport through coaching or management,” he said.

“However, this would take almost as long to make the grade as it does to be a player.

“Therefore I am taking quite a bit of time to decide what my next move career-wise will be, but we love this part of the world and especially Dundee and it would be great if something came up that could keep us here.”

He would go on to co-own an indoor baseball training facility where he would coach hundreds of youngsters.

He was active in many youth baseball projects and coached thousands of players.

Waddell became a video star when he used his experience to release a tutorial of baseball tips and techniques on DVD in 2012.

Tom Waddell loved coming back to the city

He was named in the Evening Telegraph’s Inspiring Dundonians series in 2016, where he recalled the sights and smells of his childhood.

He said: “I remember taking the bus to the city centre, passing through the underground markets, barrels of whelks and slot machines.

“The smell of fish and chips, sausage rolls and scotch pies.

“It feels like home when I’m back.”

A Cleveland Indians team card showing Tom Waddell's pitching record in the minors.
A Cleveland Indians team card showing Tom Waddell’s pitching record in the minors. Image: DC Thomson.

A copy of the story took pride of place in his home in Arizona, where he died suddenly on September 14 2019 at the age of 60.

He was survived by his wife Sande, daughter Kady and son Kyle, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professional pitcher in Germany.

Tom Waddell’s legacy lives on across the water from where he was born.

The Tayport Breakers named their home ground in honour of the Dundonian who achieved the American dream.